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From Loneliness to Oneness (Parshas Terumah)

parsha sefer shemos Feb 17, 2021


After a long day of work, all he wanted to do was relax. But his son came running into his study, with way too much energy for him to handle.

“Daddy, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“How much do you make an hour?”
“That’s none of your business. Why are you asking?”  
“I just want to know. Please can you tell me?”
“If you must know, I make $300 an hour.”
“Oh!” (With his head down).
“Daddy, may I please borrow $250?”

The father was furious.

“If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I work hard every day, and I don’t have time for this childish behavior.”

The little boy went to his room with his head hanging and shut the door.
The man sat down and began to feel even angrier about the little boy’s question. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?
After about an hour though, he calmed down, and started to think:
Maybe there was something his son really needed to buy with that $250. After all, he didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to his little boy’s room and opened the door.

“Are you asleep, son?”

“No Daddy, I’m awake.”
“I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier. It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the $250 you asked for.”

The little boy sat straight up, smiling.

“Oh, thank you Daddy!”

Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled bills. The man saw that the boy already had money, so he was a bit confused. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his father.

“Daddy, I have $300 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Would you please come home early tomorrow? I would like to play with you.”

The father felt like he had been hit by a ton of bricks. Holding back tears, he slowly put his arm around his son.

“Keep the money. Tomorrow I’ll be home two hours early to play.”

As he walked away, he promised himself that from now on, his son would never feel this way again.

This story leads us to the deep topic of connection and relationships.


Living as an Ego


There is a widespread problem that plagues humanity, leaving us lonely and disconnected. Many people live their lives in a state of ego - a state of mind in which one views themselves as an isolated being inside their own body, their own mind, their own world, alone and independent. The consequences of this state of mind are obvious: Since everyone else in the world is separate from us, we will feel disconnected from them; we will also likely feel the need to compete with them – to beat them - in order to gain self-worth, in order to convince ourselves that we're good enough. This often means pushing others down just to feel like we’re better than them. We might even hate certain people or even go so far as to hurt them, because they don't make us feel good or perhaps because they challenge our own self-worth. But most of all, this state of consciousness leaves us lonely, abandoned, and empty.[1] However, there is another option.


Living as a Soul


Rather than succumbing to separation and isolation, we can choose to live in a state of soul, a state of oneness. This means living with the understanding that while we are each unique individuals, at our spiritual and existential core we are all one. At root, we are an interconnected self, a single consciousness, with a single soul. This is the concept of Klal Yisrael- a singular, unified self. The Rambam[2] states that one who disconnects himself from the Jewish People has no portion in the World to Come. This is intuitive, though. Klal Yisrael is one entity, a single body, a single self. If a leaf falls from a tree, it withers, if a finger is detached from its body it dies. If you remove yourself from your source of existence, you cease to exist.[3]


We Don't Experience This


However, it is clear that most people do not experience this state of oneness. We do not naturally perceive ourselves as part of a cosmic self. In fact, the starting point of every person’s state is ego and selfishness. Research has shown that children perceive themselves as the center of the universe and believe that they are all that exists. It is only with time that they come to realize that they are but one of billions of people existing in this world, each with their own unique life experience and inner world. However, many people cease their existential and experiential growth at that point. They don't expand further, breaking down the boundaries of consciousness, realizing that they aren't an isolated being, but are rather a part of a bigger whole. They live the rest of their lives as an ego, alone, hollow inside. So the question becomes, how do we break down the walls of our limited ego, to expand our sense of self outwards? The key to this deep principle lies in Parshas Terumah.


The Purpose of Gifts


Parshas Terumah is characterized by the voluntary gifts that the Jewish People donate towards the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the place where Hashem was most potently manifest in the physical world. The emphasis of these donations is their voluntary nature - Hashem commands Moshe to collect from Klal Yisrael “whatever their hearts inspire them to give.” Rashi[4] explains that in addition to the required contribution,[5] Hashem allowed them to give whatever they personally felt compelled to donate. Why is this so? Why not specify a required amount? To answer this question, let us take a deeper look at the nature of giving.


We Only Love Ourselves


Rav Eliyahu Dessler explains that naturally, we only love ourselves.[6] This is not surprising, as each of us only experiences life from our own individual perspective. I can only know what I want, what I need, what I feel. It takes a lifetime of work to understand another person on this level, and to be as committed to their needs as you are to your own. True love, however, is when someone else becomes an extension of your consciousness, when you feel their needs and hopes and dreams as strongly as you do your own. 


The "love" that most people experience does not compare to this ideal. Just think about the way we throw the word “love” around. Someone might say "I love chicken," but then turn around and say, "I love my wife." Can these two experiences really be compared? When a person says they love chicken, do they really mean that they love chicken? Of course not! If they loved chicken, it wouldn't be dead on their plate. What they actually mean is that they love the way chicken makes them feel. It's themselves that they love. The problem, though, is that too often when people speak of love, they are referring to this same kind of love. More often than not, when we say we love someone, we really mean that we love how they make us feel. If this is true, then what is true love, and how can we create it?


True Love


True love is absolute oneness. It's when individual pieces connect in such a way that they create something transcendent, greater than the sum of the parts. The ideal is for man and wife to experience this oneness in their relationship. This ideal was modeled in the very creation of humanity: As the midrash explains, Adam and Chava were originally created as one androgynous being, a physical manifestation of a deeper existential oneness. They were then broken apart and forced to rebuild that original oneness.[7] The ideal and goal that we must learn from this is clear: each one of us must strive to build deep, existential oneness with our own life partner. Chazal add a layer of depth to this and explain that before a man and wife are born, they exist as a single neshama. When they are born into this world, they are broken apart and exist as two distinct beings. The goal is to then travel the world in search of your soul-mate, choose each other, and then rebuild that original oneness. Adam and Chava are created as one before being split apart to model the oneness that we are striving towards as husband and wife. So if at root we are one, but our natural experience in this world is twoness and multiplicity, then how do we both build and develop an awareness of this oneness?


How to Create Oneness


Rav Dessler explains that the mechanism for creating love and oneness is giving.[8] The logic is as follows: We naturally love ourselves. We also find, though, that parents love their children. Why is this? It’s because children are an extension of their parents. We love anything that has a piece of ourselves in it, as we personally identify with it, seeing it as an extension of ourselves. This is why we find ourselves loving our ideas, our pets, and all the creative projects that we have spent countless hours working on. When we invest ourselves into something, we see a part of ourselves manifest within it, which naturally fosters our love for that object, person, or idea. 


It's interesting to observe that parents almost always love their children more than children love their parents. However, based on Rav Dessler's explanation of love and giving, this makes perfect sense. Parents give an infinite amount of themselves to their children. Beyond just giving over their physical DNA, they devote endless time, energy, money, and care to their children. This is also why the Hebrew word for love is "ahavah." The root of this word is "hav," which means to give. Only when you give can you experience true love, true oneness.[9]


Oneness of the Mishkan: Paradigm of True Oneness


The theme of oneness is prevalent throughout Parshas Terumah. Rashi[10] quotes the midrash which says that the menorah was not created by fusing separate pieces of gold together; rather, it was carved from a single block of gold. This idea of oneness and is prominent in many other parts of the Mishkan as well. This is because the Mishkan (and Beis Ha’Mikdash) is where the physical world connects to and fuses with the spiritual world. It is the focal point of Hashem’s connection to, and manifestation within, this world. It is the place where all of Klal Yisrael come together to become one,[11] first as a nation, and then with Hashem.[12] The menorah was created from a single block of gold, reflective of a much deeper idea. Just as the menorah begins as a single block of gold before becoming manifest as branches and pieces, the Jewish People are a single soul at root expressed as a multitude of individuals.[13]


Terumah: Creating a Bond of Oneness with Hashem


The donation process at the opening of Parshas Terumah exemplifies this process of creating oneness and love. The Jewish People had to give of their own volition, to choose to donate their possessions to Hashem. This is because love and oneness can only be created and manifest through genuine giving. Hashem gave the Jewish People the opportunity to create a bond of oneness and love with Him. Only by giving themselves to Hashem - and recognizing Him as the source of their existence - could the Jewish People truly create this bond of love and oneness. It is therefore no coincidence that these donations were directed towards the building of the Mishkan, the very center of oneness, and the place where the Jewish People would connect directly to Hashem.[14]


Think about your own life. Are you walled in? Are you afraid of being loved? Of loving others? Are you living as an ego or as a soul? Are you expanding outwards, giving yourself to others, or are you isolating yourself, living empty and alone? Let us be inspired to give ourselves to others, to build genuine love, and to endlessly expand beyond our limited sense of self into true oneness with our family, our friends, all of Klal Yisrael, and ultimately, Hashem Himself.


[1] This state of ego also makes us feel independent and separate from Hashem, resulting in the ultimate feeling of spiritual emptiness.

[2] Hilchos Teshuva 3:6

[3] For more on this topic and a more detailed explanation of this Rambam, see chapter on Parshas Nitzavim, section: “The Three Stages of Teshuva.”

[4] Shemos 25:2.

[5] Machatzis ha’shekel (donating half of a shekel [coin]) was required.

[6] Michtav M'Elyahu, Kuntres Ha’Chessed.

[7] For more on this concept, see previous chapter, section: “Adam and Chava: Creating Oneness.”

[8] Michtav M'Elyahu, Kuntres Ha’Chessed.

[9] At root, all oneness and connection already exists; we simply don’t experience it. The act of giving and expansion of self does not actually createconnection, it reveals the deep oneness and connection that already exists at a root level, helping us become ever more aware of the true nature of reality. Thus, what we are, in fact, creating is a higher level of awareness.

[10] Shemos 25:31.

[11] Especially during the Shalom Regalim: Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos.

[12] One might ask: “How can I truly love and become one with all of Klal Yisrael, how can I genuinely love every Jew? It is practically impossible to give to every single person in Klal Yisrael?” But the answer is beautiful: When one gives their life to Klal Yisrael, devoting their lives towards the Jewish People, then Klal Yisrael as a conceptual, collective whole becomes an extension of yourself. As such, every Jew becomes an extension of yourself as well, and you are able to experience true ahavas Yisrael, where you love every Jew as you love yourself.

[13] The menorah is also representative of Torah Sheba’al Peh, the concept that embodies this principle as well: Torah Shebiksav is a single static text, while Torah Sheba’al Peh is an infinitely complex and never-ending expression of that oneness in the form of multiplicity, twoness, and details.

[14] For further discussion on the different types of giving, see chapter on Parshas Naso.


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